Named after the actress Jane Birkin, the Birkin bag is one of the most iconic handbags from the French luxury brand Hermès.
Introduced in the 1980s, ”The Birkin” has become a symbol of not just wealth but also exclusivity since only a small number of bags are produced each year and Hermès keep people waiting rather than increase production. Hermès is also deliberately distributing Birkin bags to their boutiques on unpredictable schedules and in very limited quantities to create the notion on scarcity.
Vintage Birkin bags often fetch a higher price than a new bag from the store. Christie’s in Hong Kong did for instance sell a Birkin bag at auction for HK$2.94 million (roughly US$ 380,000) in May 2017. A 2016 study showed that Birkin bags had an average annual return of 14.2% for the period 1980-2015.
A wide range of different Birkin bags have been manufactured by Hermès, using various types of leather and exotic skins, such as crocidilian or ostrich. The leathers and exotic skins come from many different suppliers around the world. A majority of the leathers come from French tanners, and leather from each source has its own texture and smell. Some versions of the Birkin bag include precious metals or jewels, and this will of course impact the price. Several bag sizes are available and each Birkin bag can be made to order concering aspects such as hide, colour and hardware fixtures.
Birkin bags are handmade in France, and each bag features Hermès signature saddle stitching from the 19th century. The process of making a Birkin bag involves, among other things, manual sewing, buffing, painting, and polishing. From start to finnish, the process can take several days.
History of the Birkin bag
In 1983, Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas was seated next to the actress and singer Jane Birkin on a flight from Paris to London. Birkin´s personal items spilled out from her straw bag, which she had placed in the overhead compartment, and fell to the floor, promoting a chat with Dumas about how difficult it was to find a good leather weekend bag of her liking. Dumas set to work and created a black supple leather bag for Birkin, and the rest is history.
In 2015, Jane Birkin asked Hermès to stop using her name for the Birkin Croco version of the bag, due to concerns about poor treatment of animals in crocodilian farms.
A lockable bag
Jane Birkin´s belongings spilling out over the airplane floor was the inspiration for the Birkin bag, so it is not surprising that this bag can be properly closed and even come with a lock and keys. The keys are kept in a leather lanyard (the clochette) looped through the handle.
The lock and the keys are number coded. The numbers are batch numbers, so many bags will have the same number. Early Birkin bags only sport one number on the bottom of the lock. Since then, a second number has been added, under the company stamp of the lock.
To lock your Birkin bag, close the top flaps over buckle loops, wrap the buckle straps or close the lock on the front hardware.
The Birkin bag is fairly similar to Hermès Kelly handbag, but the Birkin has two handles while the Kelly is single-handled.
The Birkin bag is available in many different sizes, including 25 cm, 30 cm, 35 cm, and 40 cm, as well as the 50 cm and 55 cm travelling bags.
Birkin bags come in a wide variety of leathers and hides, including exotic ones such as ostrich and crocidilian. One of the most expensive choices is saltwater crocodile. Crocidilian hides with smaller scales tend to be more expensive than the ones with larger scales.
The interior of each Birkin bag is lined with goat-skin, and the colour of the interior matches the exterior.
Examples of colours available for Birkin bags:
- Golden tan
- Navy blue
- Powder blue
- Olive green
The metallic hardware of the Birkin bag – such as base studs, buckle, lock and keys – is plated with gold or palladium.
Birkin bags can be ordered with precious stones, such as diamonds.
In 2013, a 30 cm Birkin bag sold for US$203,150 at an auction in Texas, USA. This was a diamond encrusted Shiny Rouge H Porous Crocodile bag with 18-carat gold fittings.
In 2017, a 30 cm Birkin bag sold for HK$2.94 million (US$377,261) at an auction in Hong Kong. This was a matte white Himalaya niloticus crocodile bag with 18-carat white gold hardware adorned with 245 diamonds.